By: Chase Gardiner/GCU Staff
Trying to exact revenge for the regular-season loss to their conference rival, the Grand Canyon University Men’s Rugby team saw history repeat itself in the opening round of the D1A Rugby Playoffs (Nationals Round of 16), losing to 2nd-seeded St. Mary’s College of California, 76-12. The loss sent the Gaels (12-1 overall, 6-0 California Conference) to the Round of 8, and eliminated the Lopes (6-4 overall, 5-1 California Conference) from the postseason.
Entering this matchup, the Lopes were well aware of how formidable a foe the Gaels – who defeated the Lopes, 88-15, earlier in the year – would be. This fact proved to be exceptionally true in the first half of play, as the Lopes came out to a very slow start.
“In the first half, we came out super flat, and whether that was from too much travel or just a long morning, we ended up giving St. Mary’s way too much opportunity which they were able to capitalize off of,” explained Lopes Head Coach Cam Wyper. “The whole team just looked really tired, and we ended up defending for most of that first half.”
Due to such a slow start, the Lopes found themselves facing a 52-0 deficit at half, something that didn’t sit well with Wyper.
“To be honest, I gave the guys a good old fashioned half time spray, and that seemed to put our motivation level back to where it needed to be,” explained Wyper. “Once we came out of the half, we did a much better job of putting pressure on them, and we were able to limit the outcome, going 12-22 to close out the game. For me, the team’s response really showed their character and their dedication, which is all I could have asked for in the second half.”
Riley Steed got the Lopes on the scoreboard with a try eight minutes into the second half. Angel Figueroa scored the final try of the Lopes’ season in the final minutes of the match.
With this loss eliminating the Lopes from contention, their focus will now shift towards emulating their second half effort, while learning from their first half mistakes.
“You don’t get better by continually winning,” explained Wyper. “You get better through losing, and then finding ways to avoid it happening again in the future. It’s not always easy to take, but it builds character and motivation which is a necessity in this league.”
While the results of this match were ultimately as lopsided as the first, the Lopes’ confidence continues to improve.
“The biggest takeaway for us was to know that we can compete with teams of this caliber,” explained Wyper. “The second half was a prime example of how when we have the right mindset and structure, we can compete with teams that are as classy as St. Mary’s.”
Although the Lopes are no longer a part of the D1A Rugby Playoffs, they still have a chance to compete in the upcoming National 7’s Tournament.
“We hope to get a bid into the tournament, which has always been our strong suit,” said Wyper. “We are just going to continue to work and build off of this weekend, and hopefully, we can put that national championship trophy in our cabinet. Whether we get that bid or not, I just wanted to say thank you to the other coaches, the players and all the fans for showing so much support and making this season so great.”
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